Thursday, August 20, 2009

Artistic Mechanics~ The ´Ebauche

Artists often do small studies before committing to a large canvas. There are different purposes for studies~ to select color, to work out the details of drawing, or to see the composition. The term ébauche refers to a study in which the artist looks at how the abstraction operates on a 2 dimensional surface.

I love the word, borrowed from the watchmaker, to describe the interior mechanism of timepieces. The parallel of understanding the visual forces or “what makes it tick,” is the essence of the ébauche .

This type of study has very little attention to fine detail or exact drawing. Rather, it is focused on shape, value, and linear integrity; to how the parts relate to one another. To use the watchmaker’s analogy, if one gear that is supposed to turn another doesn’t align, it must be moved to perform the function. So too with artistic mechanics; either the chosen subject is physically moved to the desired alignment, or if this is not possible, the viewpoint may be changed or artistic liberty taken.

Once the artist is satisfied with the arrangement, care is taken to ensure that the size of the final painting is in proportion to the ébauche. As the painting develops, detail is emphasized or subordinated with an eye toward maintaining mechanics of whole. In this way, the artist preserves her primary vision for the painting.

´Ebauches by Melody Phaneuf~

Study for Calling, 14 x 16, oil on canvas
Study for Stage Fort Park, 10 x 8, oil on canvas
Study for Partly Sunny, Gentle Breeze, 6 x 4 oil on board


Melody Phaneuf is well known for her evocative landscape, still life, and portrait paintings. Her work is regularly on view at The Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury Street, at Fenway Studios, Boston by appointment, and North Shore Art in Gloucester from May through October. Phaneuf has exhibited her paintings at The National Arts Club in New York City, Galerie Herouet in Paris, and with Art du Monde, in Japan.

Melody The Artist Home, founded with photographer and color specialist, Martha DiMeo showcases the artist’s original paintings on tumbled marble tile murals and coasters, fine art prints, and handmade note cards. Online ordering at

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